Heaves in Horses
“Heaves” is a chronic lung condition also known as Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). Like asthma in humans, Heaves is brought on my environmental allergies like dust and pollen. When the allergens irritate the horse’s lungs, the lungs become inflamed. The lungs will produce excessive mucus to try to protect their delicate lining, but the inflammation and mucus restricts the horse’s breathing. Initial symptoms include a nagging cough and runny nose, but as the condition progresses the horse has a harder and harder time breathing. The irritated and inflamed lungs become very susceptible to picking up bacteria infections. You will notice your horse taking rapid breaths and using its whole abdomen to breath since its heavy lungs are having difficulty.
Horses with Heaves do best with lots of fresh outside air away from the dusty barn. Keep their food up off of the ground to keep it clean and spritz some water on their hay to keep the dust down. Avoid dusty arenas and stalls by wetting the footing as well. Severe cases may require medication from the veterinarian to open up the horse’s lungs and to treat any potential secondary infections.